Sunday, September 27, 2009

crossroads

I am at a major crossroad in my life.

I've seen it coming.

It's been on the horizon for the past several years. I just felt like by the time I finally got to it, I'd know which way to turn. Alas, I've been sitting at what I perceive to be an intersection, with my blinker on for the past few months while the car behind me is laying on the horn.

Should I go left?

Should I go right?

Should I go straight?

If it wasn't for those tire spikes behind me, I'd throw this ride in reverse and back up.

For more than 20 years, I have worked, at some capacity in the environmental industry. I have worked in laboratories, consulting firms, and for a short stint with a governmental agency. Eight years ago, I was hired on with a major oil company and began what has been a dream job.

But once I had children, something happened.

The passion I once had for my career has been replaced with a passion for being a mom. (And then, writing ad nauseum about it.)

Although I had the advantage of working part time for the past few years, since May of this year, I've been back to full time work. Not because I wanted to, but because I had no other choice.

In the beginning, my workload wasn't very heavy, but with time, it has continued to grow. Over the past two months, there has been a lot of traveling, a lot of meetings, a lot more responsibility than I've had in the past five years, and from all predictions, my workload will only be increasing with time.

Less than six weeks ago, we returned home from our South Carolina vacation and since that time, I have traveled every week on a business trip. I spent one week at a hotel in San Diego for a meeting and then for the next two weeks, I was in Los Angeles at a trial. For the past two weeks, I've been gone to various meetings in Orange and Riverside Counties. Most days I'm gone before 6 AM and don't return home until after 6 PM.

In the middle of October, the same week that our triplets turn five, I am supposed to be at a meeting in Virginia. And the week after that, I'm supposed to be at a meeting in Santa Barbara. And although I recognize my attendance and participation in these meetings is critical for my career development, my attendance and participation in my children's lives is critical, too.

Oh, I know I'll just be gone for a few days.

I'm sure Charlie and the kids will be fine.

But will I be fine?


How will I do, knowing that I'm missing days upon days out of their childhood?

It feels incredibly unnatural to be away from the children for such a long period of time. But therein lies the complexity of this situation. When I'm working, I want to be with the kids. But then when I'm with the kids ... well ... sometimes I'd rather be sipping Chai Tea in a pedicure salon.

I keep waiting for things to get better and slow down at both work and at home, but it's like I'm caught in a vortex of crazy and I'm getting closer and closer to the center while things are going faster and faster. Does it help that my husband is starting up a company at this precise moment in time?

Absolutely not.

Although I do hope that one day he will be hugely successful, that isn't going to happen over night. So, in the meantime and unfortunately at this point in life - despite my fervent prayers for patience and compassion - I'm not the most pleasant person to be around. I want to be an encouraging mother and wife - but I'm frequently the exact opposite. Tonight, during one of my less than stellar moments, Charlie asked, "WHAT DO YOU WANT?"

Do I want to work?

Stay home?

Home school?

Move to a new house, new state, new country?

Sell everything and tour the world in a Winnebago?

Honestly? I don't know.


(Although I do know I'd like to have some trees.
Real ones, mind you. Not the kind that you buy in a 5-gallon bucket, plant in your barren front yard and maybe - if you're lucky - in 10 years, will give you 45 minutes of shade during the longest day of the year.)

I don't know if I have the courage to give up my career. I definitely couldn't do it now, since I'm the primary breadwinner. But maybe by next year, that will be an option for me. And if it is, do I have the patience and ability to home school? Do I seriously have the courage to do something totally different with my life?

The time is looming where I will have to make that decision.

This past week I had my annual review. For the past eight years, I always looked forward to my boss calling to tell me that my performance was exceptional and I was in the top third of the company. But this year I could tell that I was slipping. I wasn't carrying nearly the same number of projects and when special assignments would come up, I would run and hide.

Since Henry was born, I just haven't had the same work gusto.

When I return home from a 12-hour work day, instead of firing up my computer and checking e-mail, I curl up and read stories to my children. We eat dinner together as a family. Charlie and I talk while we get the kids ready for bed. I'll spend a half an hour tucking everyone in and saying evening prayers. And then, whatever energy I might have had to continue working has totally dissolved. And so I sit down and mindlessly update my blog and sip wine.

(It's cathartic. And it saves me a fortune in therapy. Thank you blog world. I love you more than you could ever possibly know.)

When my boss told me that my ranking had slipped, I felt genuinely embarrassed. Sure, I suspected it, but once I heard it, it felt like my privacy shade went flapping up and everyone could see I had morphed in to a total slacker. Almost immediately, I began strategizing what I could do to improve my overall ranking next year.

The very next day, I had a meeting with one of my coworkers. She is young and has no children. She is an absolute workhorse for the company, putting in 60+ hour weeks, routinely. She is a top performer who will be relocated within a matter of months to a new assignment.

She is who I was a few short years ago.

She is who I was before I had children.

See, I know exactly what it takes to be a top employee. I've done it for years. But I'm just not willing to do it now, because the sacrifice is too great. Although it has taken a while for everything to come in to focus, it is abundantly clear to me that I cannot be the best employee, the best wife and the best mother.

Something's got to give.

Because I am currently the primary breadwinner, I need to work. But I know that in the next few years, my position will be completely phased out. So at this moment, I have the choice of throwing myself in to my career with hopes of climbing up the corporate ladder and securing myself a new assignment when my current assignment ends. Or, I have the choice to continue treading water until my job dissolves and pray that Charlie's endeavor takes off and SOARS.

(The problem is, I'm not very good at treading water.)

(None of the women in my family are.)

(Whenever we do something, we like to do it well.)

One thing is indeed for certain. My job will not be here forever. But when I look at my small children, I know that they won't be here forever, either. And if I'm not giving them my absolute best, then nothing else I do right will really matter much at all.

(Please Mom, don't blow it!)

We were planning to do something special with the children for their birthday. Originally, we were going to take them on a cruise. But those plans have changed and now we are thinking of taking them to Disneyland. The question is, do I miss my hugely important (my boss's boss's boss's boss [and maybe even his boss] will be there) meeting in Virginia so I can take my children to meet Mickey on their 5th birthday?

I have to submit my RSVP by Monday morning.

What would you do?

42 comments:

  1. Go on your business trip. Disneyland can wait- til next week. By your working you are giving your children more- security. Also, wont Charlie like to have some time with the kids as well?
    My father would be gone for 3-5 months at a time when I was little. I don't begrudge him for it one little bit. In fact it made me love him more as he was always the 'fun' parent.

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  2. i have a 2 yr. old daughter and currently working part-time. if i were you, i would go to the meeting. do you think it would be ok with them, if you took them to disneyland a week (10 days?) later? for some children it's the end of the world, yet for some, not so much:) would it matter to them if they are not in disneyland on their exact birth day? i guess my question is, is it you or them who's going to be disappointed, if you don't give them a big/huge/enormous celebration on their fifth birthday?

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  3. I vote for Disneyland, so we can meet you guys for dinner at Downtown Disney! BTW, you guys are more than welcome to stay with us, as well!

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  4. I would give the children 2 birthdays and go to the meeting and schedule Disney for as soon after as you can. If you need this job, you should go and explain to them that they are very lucky to get a birthday on the day with Daddy and 1 afterwards. It's so hard I know. I deal daily with the guilt in all areas and I have much less on my plate than you! But I also think you may be teaching them lessons that a nice lifestyle is possible but only with hard work and sacrifice. I was taught that at an early age and it did me no harm.

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  5. Jenny, being a full time working mother is HARD...

    1st let me say the women in your family are some of the strongest I know as are you!! Treading water is what you do best... So whatever decision you make will be right but it will continue to make waves. LIfe is like that. It is ever in flux.

    Just remember this--Your employeer will Always use & abuse you to the max. All they care about is "the company"--You can always find another job, even a lessor paying job; your career will always be there--the developing years of your children will not.

    Having raised children as a young parent I had an advantage when I had Nick in that I appreciated all that I lost the 1st time and all I wanted to have the 2nd. I chose to think about his development in years of 5. The 1st 5 require a certin type of parenting, the 2nd a differnet type, the 3rd yet another, etc... At this point I've reached the 3rd and I'm already feeling the "teen years" at age11...Your children are heading into the 2nd 5 year span which is by far the most enjoyable...its the soccer games and the meeting/melding of relationships in the community...

    I've sacraficed a lot being a single parent and even more a full time working single parent( though my career is not as demanding as yours) so I understand your frustrations you feel but A job- A Career- will always be there. Your Children may not be.

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  6. You're very fortunate to have a great job. If, for that job, you should be at a meeting in Virginia, I think you should go. Your children will be just as happy to meet Mickey at the age of 5 years + 1 week, or 2 weeks...

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  7. I would go to Disneyland.....Been there and the rewards with your children are so much greater than your career can ever give you. My children are now 14 and 13 and glad that I stopped working when they were 5 and 3. I just wished I would have been able to do it sooner. I have since gone back to work in the past year and love love my job- a teacher.

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  8. Nanny Margaret9/27/09, 7:33 AM

    I would go with the kids. They won't be little long. The people at work will understand and be a little envious but will still be glad they are there and you aren't. When you do a good job and I imagine that you do a great one, your focus has to be on it. Child raising is also a great job. Good luck with your choice.

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  9. I feel your pain! I wasn't quiet yet where you were in your career, but my job was extremely important to me. I LOVED IT and I always felt that it was important to keep yourself intellectually occupied and challenged, even while being a mom. Now, I only have one kid (FAR from you have on your plate), but when my husband returned from his deployment to the middle east and informed me we were moving to Russia, I decided that we only experience these adventures ONCE in our lives and we should make the MOST out of it without constantly feeling stressed or guilty. :) So here I am ... a stay at home mom! And I am loving it! Don't feel guilty Jen, just make the decision that's right for you :)

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  10. I know it's easier to look in from the outside and give an opinion, than it is to be the person deep in the situation. But if it were me, family always comes first. Family will always be there, and your job is never a guaranteed. Besides, the triplets will only turn 5 once. Enjoy a day (or 2 or 3) with them at Disneyland.

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  11. Oh, Jen, what tough choices. My four year old is loving pre-K this year, which makes leaving her there easy, but my almost-two y.o. isn't so crazy about daycare, which is where he goes while I'm trying to start a law practice. As you said, there are no easy answers for any mom, I don't think.

    As for the meeting, I think you should go. Celebrate their birthdays either early or late. I really think it's the celebration and not the day that matters. My daughter has had 4 birthdays so far. My husband was only physically present for two of them and for her first, we had just moved thousands of miles away from everyone we knew. Each time, we just celebrated early, or late, so that everyone could be there. I'm not going to say "they won't know the difference", because I hate the idea that it's okay to deceive your kids if they don't know about it. But, I do think it's okay to explain that sometimes, there are conflicts, but the important thing is the celebrate the children when everyone can be there.

    Wow, this might be the longest comment I've ever left.

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  12. Take them to meet Mickey. You won't regret it. :)
    Good luck in your future. I know from reading your blog, you'll make the right decision for you, and your family.

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  13. Amanda in NC9/27/09, 8:33 AM

    I was (kind of sort of) in your same position a mere 5 months ago. I am nowhere as awesome as you are, career-wise, but at age 26, I was pretty high up, managed a staff of 15, and held quite a bit of responsibility. I was on the fast track upwards and I was being groomed for "greatness" (as the big boss put it). At this current juncture, where am I? A stay at home mom to my 10 month old peanut. I just couldn't take it anymore; the thought of her hitting milestones for a caregiver made my heart hurt. Now, your kids are older and are through a lot of their big milestones, but I have to believe I would have felt the same way if my daughter were 4 or 2 or even 10. I can't tell you what I would do in your position because I have never been in it, but I CAN tell you that I understand completely and I can share with you my result.

    Good luck - this is never easy and sometimes I do look back on my fabulous career and get a little whiny and "grass is greener" petulant, but I would never change my situation and I think that's the best endorsement I can get. That and having my daughter's first word be "mama!". :-)

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  14. Jen, there's a reason they call this kind of situation a dilemma. Perhaps it is that the world expects too much of women, and that we expect too much of ourselves, too.

    I'm with you on wanting to be the best at everything I do. But time and energy are both limited.

    I wish I had the answers you want. I wish you worked for a company that could appreciate that children only turn 5 once and you need to be there, whether for a simple cake and song or a big surprise like Disney.

    What would happen if you took your question about your meeting vs. your kids' birthday to your boss? What would s/he say? You may not get the answer you want, but you might gain a lot of insight.

    In the end, I think you have to go with your heart. Because that's what living is really all about, isn't it...our hearts, not our heads.

    Best of luck. I'll be praying.

    Christy

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  15. Jen,

    Even Wonder Woman has to pay a price.

    AM

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  16. I don't know, Jen. I can feel your anguish right through the computer.

    I just know when you are that busy, the days slip by, one after another, and soon you wake up and your children are gone.

    I also know what you mean about being the workhorse employee before having kids. I could never be that person again. I have no desire to ever be that person either. I just want to hand out food samples at Trader's and talk to people, then pick my kids up at school and get a discount on our groceries. LOL! Can you imagine?

    My other neighbor used to be a lawyer, then he had kids, and now he has a hotdog stand.

    Working like the way you are expected to work is totally overrated and I don't think that it is the key to happiness. Sure. You make money. You have prestige. But in the big picture, who cares?

    As far as the birthday, go to your meeting and do the birthday on a different day. They aren't old enough to know the difference yet. You can celebrate birthdays on any day!

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  17. Jenn -

    I think you answered your own question in this post . . . . . your job is fading slowing . . . while Charlie's is beginning to grow . . . . . trust that will work out and apportion your time accordingly.

    Yours in the love and insanity of triplet life + 1 - Jessica

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  18. I'm not sentimental about birthdays, and my 3 boys (who are the same age as yours) are too young to have any concept of dates, so for me the decision wouldn't be agonizing: I'd just do the Disneyland birthday before my business trip. That would be an easy 'don't sweat the small stuff' moment FOR ME. You clearly value birthdays in a different way. IMHO, the true agonizing should be reserved for the things that are truly 'rock and a hard place': tread or dive in regarding your decision to work or not. Now that's something to lose sleep over. That's huge. That one, I haven't the foggiest idea how to handle.

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  19. Five years from now your children will remember their birthday. Five years from now you won't even remember what the meeting was about. Those people at the meeting (bossesssss) will be nothing in your life - you probably won't even remember their namaes? I bet your kids will say "remember when we went to Disneyland for our birthday". My kids and 16 and 18 and if I could I would go back and reprioritize when they were little. The things I thought were important then are meaningless now but my kids are very important (then, now and always). I do have to say that I am glad I worked (because we needed to eat and have shelter) because I have something other than just the kids to define me. Now that they are older and more independant I am glad I have a career because I think I would be lost trying to figure out what to do with myself? I just don't think it is ever as important as your family. Just my two cents... If you don't "have" to be there I wouldn't go to the meeting. Kim

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  20. Hi Jen,

    Why don't you take them with you to VA. While you are in the meetings, they can visit DC and sfter your meetings end, you can take them to DisneyWorld. I know this is a lot of trip and money, but you can be with them (at the evening) on their birthday and then you can take them to a more magical Disney. I always loved DisneyWorld more than DisneyLand.

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  21. That's a toughie!
    My middle kid's birthday is in December, during the week that there is an annual conference that my husband used to have to go to (and might again now). Depending on the year, sometimes they overlap, and sometimes the conference is right before his birthday. When he was little, I really hated having my husband gone on that day... I thought the day itself was a big deal. Now that he's older (will turn 8 this year) I'm not so hung up on the actual date. We always do a 'friend' party for the kids on a weekend near their birthdays, so they are used to having a couple of celebrations.

    I also hate it when my husband's job disrupts other family stuff... he's had projects come up that have made us have to change vacation plans. But the tradeoff is that he has a secure job that pays well, and he does still have a good amount of family time most of the time.

    So... I don't know. I think your kids will love going to Disneyland regardless of whether it's on their actual birthdate or a week earlier or a week later. I think you would feel bad, though, if you weren't at least with them on their bday. (Hmm... family trip to Virginia? Then you can have cupcakes together on their day...).

    Best wishes figuring it all out.

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  22. It doesn't have to be 'on' their birthday, just 'for' their birthday.

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  23. I don't know what to tell you about Disneyland vs. Virginia. However, I wonder if you have ever considered teaching...possibly at the college level. I work in the environmental field as well and am in the petroleum transport industry. From your postings, I believe you would be a good teacher. That may afford more regular hours, less travel, and still be a venue where you can excel as a professional.

    Just a thought.

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  24. My questions would be these: Would my job dissolve faster if I did NOT go to this meeting? Will I regret not going to the meeting MORE than I would regret not being at Disneyland for my kids' 5th birthday?

    (for what it is worth, I would go to Disneyland on their Birthday)

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  25. If I were you I would go to Disneyland with my family prior to the business trip. During your business trip you can have your family fly to Virginia the day before the kids birthday so that you can be together with them on their actual birthday and maybe spend the weekend in the DC area. I realize that this would be very expensive but your company might be willing to pay for your family's plane tickets as you are willing to attend the meeting on this very special week for your family.

    Jen, this is my very first comment. I enjoy reading your blog a lot. I believe you are an AMAZING mom and you will make the right decision for you and your family.

    PS: Can you please publish your blog in to your book ASAP so that us moms can enjoy your blog even better by flipping through pages rather than reading it on the computer screen :).

    Amber's mom.

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  26. Thought it was necessary to come back and point out to your readers that the kids get in FREE to Disneyland if you go on their birthday. Let's not forget that part of the equation!

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  27. Disney!!!!

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  28. So I might not be a parent, and I might only still be in college, but it is so important that you spend time with your children on their birthdays. As someone already mentioned, you yourself said your job is fading. This should only mean that you should spend time with your children on their birthday. Yes, they might not understand the concept of time, but they will always remember when you took them to Disneyland for their 5th birthday. Spending time with your family should always be more important than a business meeting.

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  29. Think back to your best birthday as a child - was the celebration actually on your birthday or not? I bet you don't even remember. And when your kids think about their 5th birthday years from now, they won't remember either. They will just know that mom and dad took them to Disney, and they had such a blast! If you don't keep that job, you won't be able to afford to take them to Disney, so go on your business trip. You can do Disney before and after. And just because you go on the trip doesn't mean that you're choosing job over family like some people are implying. You have that job to support your family!

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  30. Take them to VA and go to the nation's capital, Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg or any of the other great places that are nearby!

    If you have to work right now, then put aside thoughts of what else you should/could be doing, it's counterproductive. You're setting a good example for kids anyway by doing what needs to be done for your family.

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  31. Disneyland. But then again, you're talking to someone who gave up the partnership track at a big law firm (and the money and perks that go along with that) to become a stay at home mom...

    Go to the b-day party. Follow your bliss. It will all work out, even if it doesn't seem like it will.

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  32. Go to your meeting....your job and career is very important and especially in this economic period. Being gone a few days here and there will have no impact on your children. You can go to Disney when you return. I agree with another's posting....they are old enough to understand and they can have "2" birthdays!!!

    Count your blessings that you have a wonderful husband that is more than capable to handle things on the homefront!!

    My best advice, take a deep breath and try not to worry .............

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  33. I'd go on my trip. It doesn't really matter when you celebrate a birthday-a week early, a week late. As long as you are present when you are celebrating.

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  34. not reading any other comments, just adding: go to your meeting. there's no reason to visit DL on the actual day of their 5th birthday .. it'll hold.

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  35. GO on your business trip. They pay you well and at this point and time, it seems you need to continue to work. Your children will get over it - they won't care if they go ON their birthday or the week after. And your salary you earn is what is paying to TAKE them to Disney. Just remember that.

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  36. Ditto what Sandra said. I would want to protect the job I have as primary breadwinner, especially now. Family comes first, but a celebration on a different day will be just as fun. I too, have had to be the primary breadwinner up until recently and while I struggled with the idea of being away from the kids, I also tried hard to do a good job as a professional. Not that I spent much extra time at the job, but gave it my best while I was there. It seems to me that otherwise I'd have felt like I wasn't doing right by anyone. In my opinion, your job may be being phased out, but you'll feel better if you still give it your all (or your new "post-Henry" all :). Think of the letters of recommendation/references, etc. you may need down the road. In short, I'd go to the meeting! One more thought: I tried to focus on the fact that the kids were still w/ Daddy...lots of dads don't get that kind of time with their kids! Good luck w/ your decision!

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  37. I'm with Sandra. It's not the day, it's the memories. We celebrated our daughter's birthday today with Daddy since he is leaving tomorrow (the real birthday) at 6 am for a week. She totally didn't care. And I'm still here, so tomorrow will be special too!

    If I were you, I would pray and talk and pray and talk more with your spouse...God will give you the answers you need if you are listening. Sometimes that comes in what other people say to you and the feelings you have as you make decisions. You will know what's best for your family!

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  38. Seek balance and stay close to Nature. Reel it ALL in. The key phrase is "you are currently the bread winner" so make choices that can help the whole family stay financially stable until your husband's business is up and running. Disneyland is a huge Birthday present at only 5 years old -save some cool stuff for upcoming Birthday's when they will actually remember the event.

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  39. First, I have been reading your blog for some time and YOU ROCK! You are the best blogwriter ever, you make me laugh every night and I love you for that!

    Now, as for the job-mom question, I can so feel with you. I was the high power attorney, young rising star at our firm, and I THOUGHT I loved my job. I had the same feelings as you, whenever I was at work I would miss my daughter (notice, I only have one ;-)), however after an intense weekend, I would wait for Monday morning to arrive. All that till I had some health issuas a couple months ago, I guess that was my body's warning call. And I so agree with Michelle S'comment: In the big picture, who cares about your job? All that matters is your family and your being happy and enjoying every moment of your life. I quit my job and haven't missed it at all in the last 2 months. I spend more time with my daughter, and - incredibly - even after long intense days, I'm much more relaxed then I was when I was working, and actually enjoy her and my husband's company much more. And yes, we feel it financially, but we decided to move to a cheaper place and actually safe money so that my husband can retire earlier too.

    Since all that might not be an option for you now, why don't you celebrate your kids' birthday a week earlier or whenever you can? I don't think they care much and what counts is the celebration not the date of it.

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  40. Jen, I don't have any grand advice. I'm struggling with a similar situation. A two year old and a 11 week old. I used to be very ambitious, very busy with my career and never having any kids, didn't see it changing once they came. Wow...was I in for a rude awakening when those maternal hormones kicked in.

    I have many SAHM girl friends, but they all PLANNED to SAH once babies arrived. Which meant they planned out their budgets on their husbands income and continue to make sacrifices with them being gone from the secular workforce. But since I was little Ms. Career Girl, we didn't do that.

    And I regret it deeply. My lack of foresight has bit me in the butt and I'm dealing with the consequences today.

    I desperately want to SAH with my boys, but as of now, we are not in a position to do it. We are out of debt, which is a start, but with healthcare costs, we NEED my health insurance, as his company's are very expensive. I keep praying to God to help me change my circumstances somehow. I do what I can to change them myself, but I'm pretty much at a standstill until my husband starts making more money.

    So here we are. Me working at a dead end job I hate now and my boys are being raised by (wonderful!) workers at a daycare. Not ideal, but it's my life and I'm trying to make the best of it. :-S

    All that to say, I understand the dilemma and sympathize with the difficult choices it brings.

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  41. When I asked Gracie when her birthday was she said Tomorrow. So, you can make any day their birthday and go to Disney when they are a little older---or perhaps we could go on a Disney Cruise?
    MOM

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  42. If you can only go to Disneyworld on their actual birthday, and that's what they really want to do, do that. If you can postpone Disneyworld (or do something else) within a week either way, go on your business trip. That's what I would do.

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